sábado, 9 de junho de 2007

As Regras da Violência Eric Hobsbawm

Aqui vai o txt há muito prometido, é uma análise, quase antropológico de como a nossa sociedade ocidental-liberal encara o fenómeno e os riscos que acarreta essa visão. É um texto, na minha opinião, FUNDAMENTAL, e que embora escito nos anos sessenta transpira actualidade...

The Rules of Violence

Of al the vogue words of the late 1960s, ‘Violence’ is very nearly the trendiest and the most meaningless. Everybody talks about it, nobody thinks about it. As the just-published report of the US National Commission of the Causes and Prevention of Violence points out, the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, published 1968, contains no entry under this heading.

Both the vogue and the vagueness are significant. For most of the people likely to read books with such titles as The Age of Violence (as like as not about symbolist poetry) or Children of Violence (which is about physically rather tranquil lives) are aware of the world’s violence, but their relation to it is unprecedented and enigmatic. Most of them, unless they deliberately seek it out, can pass their adult lives without direct experience of ‘behavior designed to inflict physical injury on people or damage to property’ (to use the American commission´s definition), or even with force defined as the actual threatened use of violence to compel others to do what they might not otherwise do’.

Physical violence normally impinges on them only in one direct and three indirect ways. Directiy, it is omnipresent in the form of the traffic accident — casual, unintended, unpredictable and uncontrollable by most of its victims, and about the only peacetime contingency which is likely to bring most people working in homes and offices into actual contact with bleeding or mangled bodies. Indirectly, it is omnipresent in the mass media and entertainment. Probably no day passes in which most viewers and readers do not encounter the image of a corpse, that rarest of sights in real British life. Even more remotely, we are aware both of the existence in our time of vast, concretely mass destruction for which convenient symbols are found (‘the bomb’, ‘Auschwitz’ and such like), and also of the sectors and situations of society in which physical violence is common and, probably increasing. Tranquillity and violence coexist.
These are curiously unreal experiences, and we therefore find it very difficult to make sense of violence as a historical or social phenomenon, as is shown by the extraordinary devaluation of such terms as ‘aggression’ in popular psycho-sociological small talk, or of the word ‘genocide’ in politics. The prevailing ideas of liberalism do not make it any easier, since they assume an entirely unreal dichotomy between ‘violence’ or ‘physical force’ (bad and backward) and ‘non-violence’ or ‘moral force’ (good and the child of progress). Of course one sympathizes with this, as with other pedagogic simplifications, in so far as it discourages people knocking one another over the head, the avoidance of which all sane and civilized persons approve. Yet as with that other product of liberal morality, the proposition that ‘force never solves anything’, there comes a point where the encouragement of the good becomes incompatible with understanding reality — i.e. with providing the foundations for encouraging the good.

For the point to grasp about violence, as a social phenomenon, is that it exists only. in the plural. There are actions of differing degrees of violence which imply different qualities of violence. All peasant movements are manifestations of sheer physical force, but some are unusually chary of spilling blood while others develop into massacres, because their character and objects differ. The English farm-labourers of the early nine-teenth century regarded violence against property as legitimated, moderate violence against persons as justifiable under certain circumstances, but systematically refrained from ki1ling, but under different circumstances (such as affrays between poachers and gamekeepers) the same men did not hesitate to fight to kill. It is quite useless, except as a legal excuse for repression or a debating point about ‘never yielding to force’, to treat these various types and degrees of violent action as essentially indistinguishable. Again, actions of the same degree of violence may differ sharply in their legitimacy or justification, at least in the minds of public opinion. The great Calabrian brigand Musolino when asked to define the word ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ said it meant ‘killing Christians without a very deep reason’.

Genuinely violent societies are always and acutely aware of these ‘rules’, just because private violence is essential to their every clay functioning, though we may not be so aware of them, because the normal amount of bloodshed in such societies may seem to us to be so intolerably high. Where, as in the Philippines, the fatal casualties in every election campaign are counted in hundreds, it seems hardly relevant that, by Filipino standards, some of them are more open to condemnation than others. Yet there are rules. In the highlands of Sardinia they constitute an actual code of customary law, which has been formally described in legal terms by outside observers[1]. For instance, the theft of a goat is not an ‘offence’ unless the goat’s milk is used by the family of the thieves, or there is a clear intent to ‘offend’ or spite the victim. In this case revenge is progressively more serious, up to death.

However binding the obligation to kill, members of feuding families engaged in mutual massacre will be genuinely appalled if by some mischance a bystander or outsider is killed. The situations in which violence occurs and the nature of that violence tend to be clearly denied at least in theory, as in the proverbial Irishman’s question: ‘Is this a private fight or can any one join in?’ So the actual risk to outsiders, though no doubt higher than in our societies, is calculable. Probably the only uncontrolled applications of force are those of social superiors to social inferiors (who have, almost by definition, no rights against them) and even here there are probably some rules.

As a matter of fact some such rules of violence are still familiar to us. Why for instance do abolitionists, who presumably believe in the undesirability of all executions, base so much of their campaigning on the argument that the death penalty sometimes kills innocent people? Because for most of us, including probably most abolitionists, the killing of the ‘innocent’ evokes a qualitatively different response from that of the ‘guilty’.

One of the major dangers of societies in which direct violence no longer plays much part in regulating the everyday relations between peoples and groups, or in which violence has become depersonalized, is that they lose the sense of such distinctions. In doing so they also dismantle certain social mechanisms for controlling the use of physical force. This did not matter so much in the days when traditional kinds of violence in social relations, or at least the more dangerous among them, were diminishing visibly and fast. But today they may be once more on the increase, while new forms of social violence are becoming more important.

Older forms of violence may be increasing, because the established systems of maintaining public order, elaborated in the liberal era, are increasingly strained, and such forms of political violence as direct physical action, terrorism, etc. are more common than in the past. The nervousness and disarray of the public authorities, the revival of private-enterprise security guards and neo-vigilante movements, are evidence enough. In one respect they have already led to a certain rediscovery of controlled violence, as in the return by so many police forces to a curious medievalism — helmets, shields, armour and all — and development of various temporarily disabling gases, rubber bullets, etc., all of which reflect the sensible view that there are degrees of necessary or desirable violence within a society, a view which the ancient common law of England has never abandoned[2]. On the other hand the public authorities themselves have become accustomed to use certain horrifying forms o violence, notably torture, which were regarded until a few decades ago as barbaric, and entirely unsuitable to Civilized societies, while ‘respectable’ public opinion calls hysterically for indiscriminate terror.
This is part of a new kind of violence which is today emerging. Most traditional violence (including the revived types) assumes that physical force must be used in so far as no other methods are available or effective, and consequently that violent actions normally have a specific and identifiable purpose, the use of force being proportionate to that purpose. But a good deal of contemporary private violence can afford to be and is non-operational, and public violence is consequently tempted into indiscriminate action.

Private violence does not have to or cannot achieve very much against the really big and institutionalized wielders of force, whether or not these hold their violence in reserve. Where it occurs it therefore tends to turn from action into a substitute for action. The badges and iron crosses of the Nazi army had a practical purpose, though one of which we do not approve. The same symbols on the Hell’s Angels and similar groups merely have a motive: the desire of otherwise weak and helpless young men to compensate for their frustration by acts and symbols of violence. Some nominally political forms of violence (such as ‘trashing’ or some neo-anarchist bombing) are similarly irrational since under most circumstances their political effect is either negligible or more usually counter-productive.

Blind lashings-out are not necessarily more dangerous to life and limb (statistically speaking) than the violence of traditionally ‘lawless’ societies, though probably they do more damage to things, or rather to the companies which insure them. On the other hand such acts are, perhaps rightly, more frightening, because they are both more random and cruel, inasmuch as this kind of violence is its own reward. As the Moors murder case showed, the terrible things about dreams of Nazi jackboots, which flicker through various western underworlds and subcultures today, is not simply that they hark back to Himmler and Eichmann, the bureaucrats of an apparatus whose purposes happened to be insane. It is that for the disoriented fringe, for the weak and helpless poor, violence and cruelty — sometimes in the most socially ineffective and personalized sexual form — are the surrogate for private success and social power.
What is scarifying about modern American big cities is the combination of revived old and emerging new violence in situations of social tension and breakdown. And these are the situations with which the conventional wisdom of liberal ideas are quite incapable of coping, even conceptually; hence the tendency to relapse into an instinctive conservative reaction, which is little more than the mirror image of the disorder it seeks to control. To take the simplest example. Liberal toleration and freedom of expression helps to saturate the atmosphere with those images of blood and torture which are so incompatible with the liberal ideal of a Society based on consent and moral force[3].

We are probably once again moving into an era of Violence within societies, which must not be confused with the growing destructiveness of conflicts between societies. We had better understand the social uses of violence, learn once again to distinguish between different types of violent activity and above all construct or reconstruct systematic rules for it. Nothing is more difficult for people brought up in a liberal culture, with belief that all violence is worse than non-violence, other things being equal (which they are not). Of course it is, but unfortunately such an abstract moral generalization gives no guidance the practical problems of violence in our society. What was once a useful principle of social amelioration (‘settle conflicts peacefully rather than by fighting’, ‘self-respect does not require bloodshed’, etc.) turns into mere rhetoric and counter rhetoric It leaves the growing area of human life in which violence takes place without any rules, and paradoxically, without even any practically applicable moral principles; as witness the universal renascence of torture by the forces of the state. The abolition of torture was one of the relatively few achievements of liberalism which can be praised without any qualification, yet today it is once again almost universally practised and condoned by governments, and propagated by the mass media.

Those who believe that all violence is bad in principle can make no systematic distinction between different kinds of violence in practice, or recognize their effects both on those who suffer and on those who inflict it. They are merely likely to produce, by reaction, men and women who consider all violence good, whether from a conservative or a revolutionary point of view, that is to say who recognize the subjective psychological relief provided by violence without any reference to its effectiveness. In this respect the reactionaries who call for the return off indiscriminate shooting, flogging and execution are similar to those whose sentiments have been systematized by Fanon and others, and for whom action with gun or bomb is ipso facto preferable to non-violent action[4]. Liberalism makes no distinction between the teaching of the milder forms of judo to the potentially more murderous forms of karate, whereas Japanese tradition is perfectly aware that these are intended to be learned only by those who have sufficient judgment and moral training to use their power to kill responsibly.
There are signs that such distinctions are once again being slowly and empirically learned, but in a general atmosphere of disorientation and hysteria which makes the rational and limited use of violence difficult. It is time that we put this process of learning on a more systematic basis by understanding the social uses of violence. We may think that all violence is worse than non-violence, other things being equal. But the worst kind is the violence which gets out of anyone’s control.

Eric Hobsbawm (1969)

[1] See A. Pigliaru, La vendetta barbaricina come ordinamento giuridico, Milan 1959
[2] Between the wars the British Royal Air Force resisted any plans to use it to maintain public order on the grounds that its weapons were too indiscriminate, and that it might hence be liable to prosecution under the common law. It did not apply this argument to the bombing of tribal villages in India an the Middle East…
[3] The argument that these images cannot be proved to affect anyone’s action merely tries to rationalize this contradiction, and cannot stand serious scrutiny. Neither can the arguments that popular culture has always revelled in images violence, or that its images act as a sort of replacement for the real thing.
[4] Rational revolutionaries have always measured violence entirely by its purpose and likely achievement. When Lenin was told in 1916 that the secretary of the Austrian social democrats had assassinated the Austrian prime minister as a gesture of protest against the war, he merely wondered why a man in is position had no taken the less dramatic but more effective step of circulating the party activists with an anti-war appeal. It was evident to him that a boring but effective non-violent action was preferable to a romantic but ineffective one. This did not stop him from recommending armed insurrection when necessary.

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